Arizona Preview

After the disappointing loss to Cal at home, which put the Bruins a step behind in the Pac-10 race, tonight they have perhaps their toughest road game of the conference season against Arizona...

UCLA returns to action Thursday night playing what many believe could be their toughest road test of the season when they go into the McKale Center to take on Arizona (9-3, 2-0, #23 ESPN/USA Today, #21 AP).

The Bruins and the Wildcats, based on their last respective performances, are teams that some might think are headed in opposite directions. The Bruins are coming off a tough loss to what many might think is an average California team while Arizona is coming off a huge win over a previously undefeated Washington in Seattle. The question of the night will be whether the young Bruins can regain their confidence and play tough in a very hostile environment.

When you look at the results from PAC-10 play from this past weekend, you see Arizona sweeping a road trip of the Washington schools while UCLA suffered a split at home with the Bay Area teams. Many posters on BRO were very upset about the Bruin loss to the Bears, and justifiably so. It was a tough loss. And now the Bruins must travel to Tucson where they haven't won since 2002. In years past this game would set up as a bad loss for the Bruins. But when you look more closely at the way the two teams match up, this game becomes much less scary than the prospect of playing Cal was last Saturday.

The Arizona attack is triggered by junior PG Mustafa Shakur, (6'3" 190 lb.). He is having an off year considering he was hyped through the pre-season. He is averaging 9.5 PPG but more importantly, his assist to turnover ration is about 1.3 to 1. He is shooting only 25% from behind the arc, and only 46% overall. Shakur scored 23 points in the win against Washington, bu,t remember, that was in double OT. Shakur still has confidence issues, and it really shows up in his defense. He has been a bit of a sieve on that end this year, and if Jordan Farmar's ankle is better, look for Farmar to be able to get to the basket against Shakur.

The SG spot is manned by senior Chris Rodgers, (6'4" 205 lb.). Rodgers can play some minutes at the point, too. He is second on the team with an 11.5 PPG average, but he's taking a lot of shots to get those points, (121, second on the team). His shooting percentage is only at 34% and it drops to 33% from behind the arc. He is a tough defensive player which means that Arron Afflalo will have his hands full. Rodgers is an emotional roller coaster and you don't know which Rodgers will show up, the pouty one ala Salim Stoudamire, or the positive one from last weekend. Rodgers appears to be Coach Lute Olson's latest headache. More than likely Josh Shipp will get the assignment of guarding Rodgers, and while Shipp is still not the player he could be in a month,m he's still bigger and stronger than Rodgers and should be an adequate defensive match-up.

The small forward spot is handled by the Wildcats' best player, senior Hassan Adams, (6'4" 220 lb.). Adams is a fantastic athlete that can jump out of the gym and plays about four inches bigger than his listed height. He's had a tough start to the year, and many attribute it to his desire to show the NBA scouts that he has a complete game, so he took an inordinate amount of 3s. He is shooting only 19% from behind the arc. The last few games, however, he seems to be buying into more of a team concept and is shooting the ball much better, (49% from the field), and is making better decisions. Adams leads the Wildcats in both scoring, (19.8 PPG), and rebounding, (6.8 RPG). He seems to save some of his best games for the Bruins and Afflalo will probably be his primary defender, and he'll have his hands full.

At the "four" will be freshman Marcus Williams, (6'7" 205 lb.). Williams has been a nice player for the Cats, averaging 10.1 PPG, but he hasn't been rebounding much, (2.9 RPG). UCLA's own freshman, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, is bigger and longer than Williams, and when Williams has faced that type of player, he hasn't played very well. Mbah a Moute will have to be ready to go, though, as Williams is one of only two Cats to average over 50% shooting from the floor. He has taken only 7 three point shots all year, so that may be something he just doesn't feel comfortable with in his arsenal just yet. But Williams is a different kind of match-up for Mbah a Moute, being lighter and possibly even quicker, since Williams is truly a small forward playing out of position.

The post position will be taken by junior Ivan Radenovic, (6'10" 244 lb.). Much more was expected from "Rado" this year, especially with the departure of Channing Frye, but Radenovic is not the type of player that Frye was, preferring to take his game outside of the low post and face the basket. He is averaging only 7.9 PPG and 6 RPG. His shooting has been streaky, but this is a case where stats won't tell the whole story. Radenovic has just been entirely too passive this year, and it is visibly irritating Coach Olson. If Ryan Wright and Lorenzo Mata can stay physical and active, they really have an opportunity to neutralize Radenovic, and that will be a big deal for the Bruins.

When Lute looks at his bench, he really only relies on three players. For the wing positions he looks to freshman J.P. Prince, (6'6" 180 lb.). Prince is a player that can really scare you. He can play three spots, including the point, and in reality, Arizona has often been at its best with Prince being the distributor. Here's a telling stat; his assist to turnover ratio is 3 to 1. However, Prince doesn't shoot the ball particularly well, (33% from the field). In the post, junior Kirk Walters, (6'10" 241 lb.), is the Cats' only real option. He's more of a back-to-the-basket type of player, and will bang, but he's not particularly athletic, and if the Bruins need to foul, Walters is a prime candidate since he shoots just 64% from the line. The final player that gets real minutes is former walk-on Brent Brielmaier, (6'6" 235 lb. SOPH.). Brielmaier is the consummate hard working player that many teams need. He's not an offensive threat, but he rebounds very well, is strong and will dive all over the floor for loose balls. He is a big emotional spark for this team.

This game, like Cal, will probably be decided by the match-ups of styles. Arizona is like, well, Arizona. They like to get out and run. The difference is that this year they don't have the shooters and post play to make that style entirely effective. They turn the ball over a lot, and they aren't a great FT shooting team, around 67%. Their shot selection is still a question mark and their offensive rebounding has been average at best. This is the kind of team that UCLA can run with, and over. The Wildcats have the athletes to play good defense when they want, but while they're running up and down the court in a frenzy sometimes they forget to do it. The Bruins should be able to get some transition baskets and easier looks than they did against Cal's deliberate sets.

This is the kind of game that sets up very well for freshman Darren Collison. There was much made of Arizona's defense by the Fox announcers on Saturday, but Washington was able to dribble penetrate with virtual impunity against the Cats. Arizona simply does not have an imposing defensive presence in the paint. Collison will be able to drive and dish and use that running floater of his to really give Arizona a different look, and his quickness on defense is bound to give Arizona fits. This is also the kind of game that could be Josh Shipp's coming out party. Adams or Rodgers will have to expend a lot of energy guarding Shipp, which, in the case of Adams, will really hurt the Cats at the offensive end. He is the only Arizona player that averages over 30 minutes per game. If Shipp can get his outside shot working just a bit that gives UCLA three good perimeter options along with Farmar and Afflalo, and if he can drive to the hole aggressively, things will be looking up for both Shipp and the Bruins.

The Bruins must avoid any defensive let-downs. Arizona still has a penchant for going on big runs, especially at home. Take these stats; 29-1 run versus Virginia; 21-6 run versus Michigan State; 21-9 run versus UConn. And they outscored Washington by 13 in the second half on Saturday. The Bruins must avoid lazy turnovers, which brings me to the "focus" point again: The question is whether or not the Bruins bring the same focus and intensity that they had against Stanford. Lazy turnovers are a sign of not being focused. Missed lay-ups are more often than not a sign of lack of focus. Slow defensive rotation is a sign that the focus isn't what it needs to be.

UCLA, for the first time in a few years, matches up well against Arizona. Whether they win or not is up in the air, but Arizona does not have the post defense to really alter shots. They play at a tempo and with a style that the Bruins should thrive in, and most importantly, Arizona doesn't do well against disciplined defensive teams. If the Bruins play with an intensity on defense that approaches anything like they did against Stanford, then you can mark them down as disciplined. The Bruin freshmen could be a bit overwhelmed at first, this being their first PAC-10 road game and the adrenaline will be pumping, but once the Bruins settle in, look for them to begin out-executing the Wildcats.

Two final thoughts: First, the Bruins must keep the Wildcats from reaching the 80 point plateau. Arizona is 4-0 this year when that happens. Second, and this is more of a personal opinion, but it will be interesting to see if Coach Howland's game plan will be to let Adams have his points and basically shut down everyone else. Teams that used to play against Pete Maravich and LSU used to try the tact of letting Pistol Pete get his and shut down everyone else. It worked. When Maravich scored more than 40 in SEC play, the Tigers lost 58% of the time.

So, big game, big road game, big bounce-back game. Insert the adjective you like, but more than likely this will be a close game. Call us homers at BRO, but…

Arizona 79

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